Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Rollover text informationAmerican Experience Logo
Bataan Rescue
The Film & More
Film Description
Transcript
Primary Sources
Further Reading
Acknowledgements

Special Features
Timeline
Gallery
People & Events
Teacher's Guide

spacer above content
Transcript

NARRATOR: In December 1944, American POWs, some survivors of the Bataan Death March, were in their third year of captivity at a Japanese Prison Camp in the Philippines. As they huddled around a clandestine radio set, they heard shocking news. At another camp on Palawan Island one hundred-fifty of their fellow prisoners had just been herded into trenches by their Japanese guards, doused with gasoline, and set on fire.

HAMPTON SIDES, Author Ghost Soldiers: The Palawan massacre was very much a premeditated atrocity. There was a specific order that came from the high command that required that the commandants of these various camps liquidate any and all American prisoners, rather than let them fall back into American hands.

JAMES HILDEBRAND, U.S. Army: We were scared because of Palawan. We knew about Palawan. We got that on the radio

ROBERT BODY, U.S. Army: It was in the back of our minds that the Japanese are going to kill us one of these days, that the, they're not going to let us go home and tell our story.

NARRATOR: In the midst of a massive campaign to retake the Philippines, US military commanders shared the POWs fears. Their only option was to conduct an urgent mission to save 500 prisoners. Operating behind enemy lines, an elite unit of Army Rangers would have seventy-two hours to get them out.

ROBERT ANDERSON, 6th Ranger Battalion: They said that "You're going on a dangerous raid, some of you may not come back, and I want you to pledge this, that you'll give your life, if necessary, to see that those prisoners come out."

JOSE JUACHON, Filipino Veteran: If the Japanese knows about it, the raid will fail. They will all be slaughtered in there.

JOHN RICHARDSON, 6th Ranger Battalion: I knew it was a dangerous mission, but I'm going to tell you right now, I wasn't going to let one of my buddies go without me.

NARRATOR: The raid to save the surviving POWs would be the most daring rescue mission of the Second World War.

Bataan Rescue

NEWSREEL: This is the Philippines in 1940, a modern, civilized country, a piece of America, peopled with fellow Americans.

NARRATOR: In December 1941, the Japanese attacked the Philippines just hours after Pearl Harbor. The United States' colony in the Pacific had a large garrison of American defenders, but this peace-time army was ill-equipped to fight a real war.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: The day the war started, I was sent to the armament to pick up armament sections for our group, I picked up four cases of rifles and two cases of ammunition all packed in 1918.

ROBERT BODY: We couldn't defend ourselves against them, they had better equipment, they were in better shape, they were better trained, everything they were, we weren't.

NARRATOR: The Japanese invaded with modern weapons and the advantage of better supply lines. The enemies stock of aircraft and equipment seemed almost limitless. The American troops were isolated 7000 miles from home. They couldn't be re-supplied, and their food and ammunition were running out.

ROBERT BODY: We kept hearing of convoy being on the way. And we kept watching in the Bay and kept watch and watch, but it never happened.

NARRATOR: Retreating from Manila to the Bataan Peninsula, the American and Filipino forces waited for help.

RICHARD BECK, POW: I had been a communications specialist that listened to the short wave from the States and when they said that they were sending 50,000 airplanes and, and many ships and all that, it didn't materialize, so we knew that we had been lied to.

NARRATOR: In March 1942, after three months of constant Japanese attack, the American commander, General Douglas MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines for his own safety. The defenders fought on alone for another month, but the Bataan peninsula could not hold. By April, cut off without food or ammunition, mass surrender became inevitable.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: You can only fight so much on an empty stomach, you just can't do that.

ROBERT BODY: And then the sickness too. By the time April the ninth come along, we couldn't fight anyhow. If we'd had the equipment we couldn't have done nothing -- we're all too weak.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: First I heard of the surrender was at my, uh, commanding officer said that "You're all on your own, you're free to do what you want to do. But, before you do that, I want all this ammunition and all the guns completely destroyed." I disconnected my 50-caliber machine gun -- Took it all apart, I bent the barrel over a rock and threw it in the China Sea, then we were ready to go. We marched down into Mariveles Airstrip, and that's where the surrender basically took place.

MALCOLM AMOS, U.S. Army: When the Japanese come in, my commanding officer, he heard them coming up there and so he got his white flag and, and flagged them down and surrendered the camp. And that was the way we was surrendered and captured.

ROBERT BODY: We had the feeling that we'd be in disgrace back home because we surrendered, 'cause the U.S. Army didn't surrender.

NARRATOR: As 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers laid down their arms the enemy's plans for dealing with a sudden influx of prisoners were woefully inadequate. The Japanese intended to move their prisoners sixty miles north to camps in the interior.

HAMPTON SIDES: The Japanese intelligence was all wrong. They got the numbers wrong, they got the condition of the men wrong. They didn't realize that some 80% of these men had malaria, and they had dysentery, and, and they'd been starving to death for, for months in the jungle.

ROBERT BODY: It was a whole lot of organized confusion. They didn't know what the hell they were doing, themselves. I think that they didn't realize how many people they had to put up with.

BERT BANK: The Japanese told us when we started, everybody had to move under their own power. If you don't go under your own power, we're going to eliminate those who are helping and those who are being helped.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: Well, we didn't go two miles until they started dropping out. At that time, they were shooting you.

RICHARD BECK: Every one of us was sick. I had a 104 fever. The man to my immediate right was executed because he couldn't keep up. There were about 500 Filipinos marching ahead of us. I don't know how many of those were executed on that march.

JOSE JUACHON: Some of them just fell down in the road because of tiredness, nothing to eat. But there are so many people along the road. On the area where we were passing, people, civilians having food, handing their food, trying to give to us, but, we cannot break the line.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: We had artesian wells all along the road, you wouldn't, they wouldn't let you stop and get it. If you'd go for it, why they'd, they got to the point they didn't shoot you anymore because they were ordered to save ammunition, they used a bayonet.

NARRATOR: Sketches drawn from memory by survivors provide the most graphic accounts of the ordeal. Thousands perished as American and Filipino prisoners were forced to tramp miles to detention camps north of Manila. The captives suffered a series of horrors which became known as the Bataan Death March.

ROBERT BODY: There were people being shot there and these two handed swords cuttin' people's heads off, that death march was just plain murder, that was, as you walked along you could smell, the odor was terrible from guys that had been left a day or so ahead of time, and laying in the sun, you know, and they left them people laying there. It's still hard for me to believe that this actually happened, and it is still hard for me to believe that I went through that.

HAMPTON SIDES: I don't think that the U.S. Army had ever faced a foe quite like this before. The Japanese Imperial Army was steeped in a very different tradition and they had a very different conception of what it was to be a prisoner. They believed that it was the ultimate shame, to fall into enemy hands, you were supposed to save the last round of ammunition for yourself, under no circumstances put yourself in a situation where you would be taken.... This attitude influenced the way they, in turn, treated American POWs. They were beneath contempt.

NARRATOR: By May of 1942 the invader's victory was complete. The Philippines was now a part of the far-flung Japanese Empire.

NARRATOR: Just six months into the war, an entire army had been captured. Official telegrams began arriving at homes across America. "The Secretary of War regrets to inform you that your son is now a prisoner of the Imperial Japanese Army. The government has no information on the condition of such prisoners." The wires' formal language gave no hint of the continuing horrors of captivity.

JAPANESE ANNOUNCEMENT: "Prisoners, it is regrettable that we were unable to kill each of you on the battlefield, it is only through our generosity that you are alive at all.

NARRATOR: Japanese commandants often addressed their American prisoners as they arrived at the camps.

JAPANESE ANNOUNCEMENT: We will treat you as we see fit. If you live or die is of no concern to us. Soon, your loved ones will no longer weep for you and your country will forget your names."

RICHARD BECK: I can visualize the camp almost as if it were yesterday. I can see the, the barbed wire, the barracks, the streets.

ROBERT BODY: They put us in groups of 10 and they said if one man escaped they'll kill the other nine.

EDWARD "TOMMIE" THOMAS, POW: We had shooting squads, as we called them, and if a man had escaped, why then the other nine got shot. Well, after that happened once, nobody was missing.

ROBERT BODY: Well, that's probably what kept me all the time in that prison camp, because I would not have stayed if, if it was just my life, but, I couldn't see takin' nine other people's lives for my freedom.

NARRATOR: A few inmates with medical training organized makeshift clinics, but the crowded prison camps quickly became breeding grounds for malaria and other diseases.

RICHARD BECK: There were two types of beriberi. The most painful type was dry beriberi. It was terrific pain in the feet. With wet beriberi, your legs would swell up, probably twice the diameter or more and, finally, just stomach would, would be bloated. If it got too bloated it would affect your heart and stop it.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: We had what was know as a, a Zero Ward. Your friends just ended up there, you didn't get a chance to see them anymore. The burial detail started there.

EDWARD "TOMMIE" THOMAS: One of the duties that I had in the morning was to walk down through the barracks and take care of those men that had died. And, that was rough, you know, you don't have any trouble telling if a man was dead because, usually, by then, he had died during the night and, rigor mortis had set in and one of my obligations was to remove his dog tags and put one dog tag down his throat as far as I could get it and I had a little forked stick that I used to push it right down to his throat. And the reasoning for that was for purposes of identification at a later date.

NARRATOR: In the first months at a camp called Cabanatuan disease and malnutrition often claimed a dozen prisoners a night. The survivors did their best to turn the compound into an orderly community.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: You just had to keep your little world together. You had communications with all your buddies and all your friends and so forth. The main meeting place and the assembly place was called Times Square. And the two big avenues that we had that was running North and South was Broadway, which was the main one and the second one was Fifth Avenue and they were all named by New Yorkers, of course.

NARRATOR: Holding on to a sense of order was one more means of survival. Keeping track of the time of day became an obsession.

RICHARD BECK: We had a system of telling time in prison camp; the Navy had set up a bell. Every half-hour the Navy would give the time on the bell, like, one bell, two bells, three bells, you know.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: No, none of us knew Navy time and so he'd go bong, bong, bong, and, after he was all through with it everybody'd yell "What time is it?" And, of course the guy'd try to yell back because he was the only one that had a clock.

NARRATOR: While the prisoners marked the hours, the war expanded across the Pacific. Within a year, revitalized American forces had defeated the Japanese at Midway, at Guadalcanal, and at a dozen other battles. But the Japanese grip on the Philippines remained solid.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: You'd stand there for hours, hours after hours, trying to get water. I guess I was in better shape than the rest of them, but I would line up for other people, and I would fill their canteen and I'd take a sip of it, then I'd give it them, and then I'd take their canteen and get back in line again.

MALCOLM AMOS: The food was terrible and they give us a, a little lugow, we call it lugow and that was a little rice mixed with water and the worms and the, and the bugs, and the weevils would float to the top.

JOHN COOK, POW: My buddy across the table from me said, "John, what are you doing?" I said, "I don't want to eat these darn worms," and he said, "Well, that's the only protein we've had." He said, "Give them to me," and I said, "Like, Hell," and I scraped them back in.

MALCOLM AMOS: But there was people who'd go through that line, and they'd look at it and they'd say, "I'm not eating this stuff, I'd rather die, than eat this stuff," and they'd just dump theirs in a barrel or whatever it was, and they died.

NARRATOR: All the prisoners at Cabanatuan were forced to work. Breaking rocks or repairing roads in the hot sun was part of the discipline of captivity.

ROBERT BODY: I was young and I didn't think I had to do what they told me to do. And I was still pissed off at them because of what they done at Pearl. And, so, to me, they were deadly enemies. And, I just could not bring myself to do what they told me to do, and the sergeant kept telling me, Bob, for Christ sake, listen to them, do what they tell you. I'd say, "Sarge, I can't do it." So, consequently, I'd get beat up.

RICHARD BECK: When I would see somebody being tortured or abused, I had mixed emotions, one was anger, and, two was fear; would I be in the same situation minutes, hours, or days from then? Would I get the same treatment? But I was intensely angered at that, that they would treat another human being that way.

ROBERT BODY: I was under the impression that my family figured I was dead. We really felt that the Army had wrote us off. We were expendable.

NEWSREEL: These motion pictures...were seized from the Japs. How were the prisoners treated? For a long time the story was concealed.

NARRATOR: In January of 1944, after almost two years' captivity, newsreels brought the Bataan prisoners' plight home to America.

NEWS FOOTAGE AMBASSADOR GREW: These unspeakable atrocities make me, and I should think, every other American want to fight this war with grimmer determination than ever before.

NEWS FOOTAGE MOTHER: We mothers are all pretty bitter, and we hope that the American government will send help over to MacArthur and get the remainder of the boys out just as soon as possible.

NARRATOR: A rescue wouldn't be a job for MacArthur but for an unlikely band of army volunteers. Back in January of 1943 a group of soldiers had set out from California to the South Pacific. Their gear was as old as the army itself. These were mule skinners, big men from farms and ranches across America. They had trained with their mules, packing heavy guns up the Colorado Rockies. But, when the men and animals arrived in the Pacific there was change of plans.

JOHN RICHARDSON: We went over to Australia, couldn't put mules off there, so we went on to New Guinea. For some reason, we heard they were going to do away with the mules and send them to India, and they were going to make Rangers out of us. And they sent us a, a man named Colonel Mucci, and Colonel Mucci trained us.

ROBERT PRINCE, 6th Ranger Battalion: Mucci was about thirty-two, he was a graduate of West Point. He said he was an amateur boxer when he was at West Point and I can believe it, he was one tough cookie.

NARRATOR: Colonel Henry Mucci was ordered to transform these mule skinners into Army Rangers, jungle commandos, able the think on their feet and survive behind enemy lines. His men dubbed Mucci "little MacArthur". He liked to be seen smoking a pipe, just like the general. The hot-tempered son of an Italian-American horse trader, Mucci could out-run and out march his men.

ROBERT ANDERSON: Of course, he did everything to run us to death, made us cross rivers on ropes. We had to swim with packs on our back. We had obstacle course. You could approach him with a knife in your hand and you couldn't, couldn't get to him, he would throw you on your back, he was a judo expert. But he worked us so hard that sometimes, I'd think, "I hate that man." I'd double-time back to my camp and say, "You can't kill me; I'll do more than you can give me."

LELAND PROVENCHER, 6th Ranger Battalion: The first weeks of training you broke your leg or you broke your arm in training and your buddy wasn't supposed to help you back. If you couldn't get back by yourself, you were out.

JOHN RICHARDSON I thought he was going to kill us. He, he, he, he called us rats, he called us everything, but a child of God, and he told us, he said, "I'm going to make you so d--- mean, until you will kill your own grandmother."

ROBERT PRINCE: We were volunteers in reverse because if we didn't want to stay he would transfer us out. And there were others that he transferred that he didn't want around.

LELAND PROVENCHER: There wasn't anything that he would ask you to do, that he wouldn't do himself. He was, he, really a, a all-out, oh, in Army terms, a "all-out Joe."

JOHN RICHARDSON And I wondered why he was putting us through so much, but, before it was over with, there was no question about it, I knew why. And when he, when he got us trained and got us picked out, the ones that they wanted, he loved us to death and there wasn't anything too good for us.

NARRATOR: Under Mucci's supervision the 6th Ranger Battalion became, a strong, flexible force ready to take on special assignments, but stationed in New Guinea, they had yet to get a mission which would fully test their abilities. That would come in the Philippines.

By the summer of 1944 the Cabanatuan prisoners had not seen their loved ones for years.

ROBERT BODY: The Japanese allowed us to send cards out occasionally and it had "MY HEALTH IS: GOOD, FAIR, OR POOR." A multiple choice card that you were allowed to send home.

EDWARD "TOMMIE" THOMAS: They gave us the cards, and we wrote on them. It would be censored and the Japanese censors were tough. If you said something about "I'm feeling good," they let that go and, I know my mother said, "Well, I knew it was from you, because I recognized your handwriting." And that was about the only good it did.

NARRATOR: The Japanese tried to prevent any war news from reaching the camp, but the prisoners managed to pull an end run around the information blackout.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: They were fixing Japanese radios, and they would take certain parts out and tell the Japanese, these parts need replacing. And it was up to the Japanese to get those parts. Well, the Japanese never asked for those parts back. And, if you get enough parts, you can make a radio, and that's exactly what they did. This radio was built inside of a canteen. We knew about D-Day long before the Japanese did.

JOHN COOK: It was listened to, probably, every night and the news would be disseminated to us either the next day or the day after. We knew they had landed on Lingayen Gulf, the, we, we knew when the Leyte Battle had happened.

NARRATOR: At Leyte in October, 1944, General MacArthur led a huge force back to the Philippines. Over 700 ships took part in the invasion, the greatest fleet ever to sail the Pacific.

ROBERT BODY: When the Americans started coming back, why, the planes flew right over the camp, and you could start hoping again.

NARRATOR: But the American landings came nowhere near the prison camps. The fighting was hundreds of miles south. After two and a half years, the liberation of the POWs would still have to wait.

HAMPTON SIDES: The Japanese Army realized that the Americans were coming and the battle was turning very much against them. They had to do something quickly with these American POWs. We later were able to unearth some documents...that showed that there was a specific order that came from the high command that required that the commandants of these various camps liquidate any, any and all American prisoners, rather than let them fall back into American hands.

NARRATOR: In December, 1944 on Palawan Island, southwest of Bataan, a group of American POWs heard an air raid alarm ring out. They leapt for their trenches. But on this day there was no air raid. Instead, their trenches were transformed into fiery graves as the Japanese guards destroyed the 150 prisoners in an infamous atrocity.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: We all knew about Palawan, We got that on the radio.

ROBERT BODY: It was in the back of our minds that the Japanese are going to kill us one of these days. They're not going to let us go home and tell our story.

NARRATOR: A few weeks after the Palawan massacre the American Army landed at the Lingayen Gulf and began a slow advance on the POW camp at Cabanatuan, still deep in Japanese territory. The army knew that the 500 remaining American prisoners might now be in grave danger. Col. Mucci's Rangers would have to cross through enemy lines and reach Cabanatuan before another atrocity could occur.

JOHN RICHARDSON We knew something big was coming up. I heard that they wanted the whole of C Company and the whole of F Company to go on this mission, and we didn't know what kind of, I mean, I didn't know what kind of mission it was.

NARRATOR: The Camp at Cabanatuan lay thirty miles behind the lines. A daring, covert rescue was an assignment Mucci's Rangers had been born to attempt. With only hours to plan the mission, the eccentric colonel chose, as his Number Two, Captain Robert Prince.

ROBERT PRINCE: He seemed to like me, and I'm not a hard guy, but I, uh, he thought I could handle, handle the duties of a company commander and I was very pleased with that and I wanted to stay with him.

HAMPTON SIDES: Prince was s-so sober-minded, and so quiet, and so, um, calm -- calm, very, very calm.

NARRATOR: Captain Prince devised a route to the POWs. The 125 Rangers could begin a march from their advanced base at 2:00 PM and reach the camp twelve hours later. Along the way they would be joined by other units.

ROBERT PRINCE: We had the Rangers, we had the Alamo Scouts, we had the Filipino guerrillas, the Filipino civilians, who hid us -- all had to contribute to make this thing work.

JOHN RICHARDSON Before we went, they wanted us to meet in the chapel, and they said they was going to have prayer for us. Colonel Mucci m-met with us. And he says, "I'm going to tell you this, probably all of you will come back -- or none."

ROBERT PRINCE: My company was lined up and I said, "I'm going to turn around, but, I want every man that wants to go on the raid to step one step forward," and I turned back around and there was, everybody was still in line so they had all stepped forward.

HAMPTON SIDES: It was very, very low tech. They got the mission and, within hours, they're marching towards their destination

ROBERT ANDERSON: We knew that we had about thirty miles to march. The thing that bothered us, more than anything, as we went through those different villages, somebody might tip you off, you know. But those people, Filipinos, were loyal, because, you know, just one slip of the tongue could have meant suicide.

LELAND PROVENCHER: Each one was given their choice of weapon. I preferred the semi-automatic, because that's what I trained with and that was a hell of a good weapon for hip shooting or anyway you want to do it.

ROBERT PRINCE: We took bazookas, in case we had to take out a tank. The rest of it was small arms. Tommy guns, M-1 rifles, carbines.

LELAND PROVENCHER: All in all, we had a lot of firepower in just this small group.

ROBERT PRINCE: We had two guerrilla captains with us, Captain Pajota and Captain Joson, each having about a 125 to 150 men. They were from this area and they knew the people, they knew the country, and they had guides for us.

FORREST JOHNSON, Author: Pajota had been watching the activities of the Japanese, watching the troop movements. He went back by foot, and he greeted Mucci there. Pajota was invited to attend this little staff meeting that they had going with the American officers and now the Filipino officers and Pajota was informed to get ready, that they planned to attack the camp tonight.

NARRATOR: But Captain Pajota's spies had just learned that as many as 8,000 Japanese soldiers had moved near the camp. They were bivouacked along the river and inside the prison. The Guerrilla commander believed that most of the enemy would be pulling out over night. Pajota wanted Col. Mucci to postpone the raid.

ROBERT ANDERSON: Colonel Mucci didn't want to postpone it, you know, he wanted to go.

FOREST JOHNSON: Pajota said, "Are you committing suicide?" And, Mucci, being also emotional, flared, and calmed himself down very quickly, and he said, "Of course not."

NARRATOR: Any delay would endanger the prisoners Mucci was trying to rescue.

FOREST JOHNSON: But, he, then he listened very carefully to what Pajota had to say, and then paid attention again to what his Scouts had said, and recognized that he had to make some changes, and the radio message was sent out right away that there's a 24-hour delay.

JOHN RICHARDSON We were told, "About face, and go back to a certain barrio where we had left, and we, and got us scattered out and slept under houses that night and in different places, and we could still, we were close enough to the main highway that ran by the camp, we could hear the truck run, but I mean, don't ask me if I slept any.

ROBERT PRINCE: In that 24 hours, the Alamo Scouts did a real fine job of, "casing the joint," I guess is what you'd call it, and came back with all the information we needed on where the prisoners were, where the Japanese quarters were. It was drawn in the dirt is where, the only place we had to work in. We laid it out, where our approach would be with C Company and where the F Company platoon would go up this dry wash behind the prisoners' compound.

NARRATOR: The men of F Company would be the last to get into position. It would be their job to commence the firing.

ROBERT PRINCE: We wanted to be there at 7:30, so, we figured we had plenty of time.

NARRATOR: Late in the afternoon, the Rangers left their hiding places and crossed the shallow rivers surrounding Cabanatuan. Juan Pajota's hunch had been right. Most of the enemy seemed to have pulled out.

JOHN RICHARDSON I know I could hear the dogs barking. The barrios were so close together, the dogs from one barrio could hear the other and he said, "The Japanese will detect the route that we had taken." A Filipino said, "This won't do." So, they had them scout ahead and every dog, in the barrio, they took bamboo strips and tied their mouths together so they couldn't make no noise.

NARRATOR: The Guerrillas slipped from village to village gathering dozens of water buffalo carts. Farmers lent their only Carabao to help rescue the prisoners unable to walk to safety.

PATRICK GANIO, Filipino Veteran: We are anticipating the sick prisoners to be loaded after the rescue, so about a little distance from the, is a river, from the camp, and, across the river were the, I think, about 30 carts that were ready to haul the prisoners over there.

NARRATOR: As the sun began to set Guerrillas positioned machine guns along the river. In addition to the guards in the camp, eight hundred Japanese were resting less than a mile from Cabanatuan. The Filipinos would need to keep these troops from crossing to the camp once the firing started.

JOSE JUACHON: We are protecting the road in case the Japanese will attack. If the Japanese knows about it and they raided it, they, they can go easily right there and the raid will, will just will fail. They will all be slaughtered in there.

FOREST JOHNSON: Just the gossip of any one person in a village could have made a difference. How this didn't reach at least one Japanese unit, I don't know. With that troop movement, it seems like somebody would have gotten a piece of information, but they didn't, and that was a blessing I think more than a tactical thing.

NARRATOR: The official map showed the camp surrounded by high vegetation. But just hours before the raid, new aerial photos revealed only flat, dry rice paddies with no place to hide. The Rangers would be fully exposed as they crawled toward the prison fence.

JOHN RICHARDSON The most nerve-wracking part was sliding across that field on my belly.

ROBERT ANDERSON: Those rice paddies, just clay-like, just as hard as concrete almost. We just had to put our guns in front of us and just crawled an, an inch or two at the time.

NARRATOR: As the men of F Company moved around the side of the camp they found themselves crawling over prisoners' graves.

ROBERT PRINCE: It was still daylight, it was getting dusk, but it was very obvious that the guard in the tower could see us, if he was looking.

JOHN RICHARDSON I felt like, I don't want to be the only one to give us away, I'm going to stay to this ground, I don't care if I don't have any skin left on me. And, honest to God, sometime, when we went across a, little mound, hill, what it felt like your heiny was up two-foot high. We were scared, yes.

ROBERT ANDERSON: As we were crawling, this plane came over and made dives, and, of course, the Japanese were looking up, and they were scared to death of the planes, what he's going to do, thought he was going to crash, maybe.

NARRATOR: The plane was Col. Mucci's idea. He thought it would make a fine distraction as his men approached the camp. Somehow he had gotten the Air Corps to go along.

ROBERT PRINCE: Everybody's interest was on him, and that allowed us to get into the ditch, just across the road from the camp.

NARRATOR: Captain Prince's main assault unit lay waiting for F Company to make its way to the rear of the camp.

ROBERT ANDERSON: We heard all kind of bells ringing and we said that we've been spotted. And one lieutenant almost jumped up and somebody put him down. And, finally, nothing happened; we knew to go on.

NARRATOR: It hadn't been a Japanese alarm bell, but just a POW ringing the time. Inside Cabanatuan the prisoners and their guards knew nothing of the raid.

JOHN COOK: I had just finished cleaning up all the pots and pans and caldron and washing them and getting them ready for breakfast.

RICHARD BECK: There were four of us sitting around a makeshift table, smoking our last cigarette.

EDWARD "TOMMIE" THOMAS: It was dark, and I had just made my rounds, as a provost marshal, and everything was all right.

NARRATOR: Zero hour for F Company was supposed to be 7:30, but the moment passed with no shots fired. The moon was about to rise. Its light could give away their positions.

HAMPTON SIDES: It got very, very tense. Many of the Rangers kept looking at Prince, saying, you know, well, we're going to have initiate this thing, this is getting too late -- They didn't really understand it was taking F Company so long to get back to the back and fire the first shot.

ROBERT PRINCE: Well, it got up to 7:40, and I was getting a little nervous as to whether to initiate it myself. But, about that time, a guard in the tower in the rear spotted one of F Company's men and shouted an alarm and the second he did, he was dead.

EDWARD "TOMMIE" THOMAS: All hell broke lose. Shots were going in every direction -- on all four sides.

JOHN COOK: All I could think of, how in the hell are we going to cook Lugow in the morning if they're shooting up our cookware.

ROBERT BODY: We hit the ground, one of my buddies said, "Hey, Bob, what do you, what do you think's going on?" And I said, "Well," I said, "I'm convinced," I says, "The Japanese are coming in here."

JAMES HILDEBRAND: I thought it was a massacre. I thought exactly what the Japanese are going to do, they're going to kill everybody because Uncle Sam was getting close.

ROBERT ANDERSON: Well, I went right behind the people going to the main gate. One guy, Richardson, shot the lock off the front gate and went in.

JOHN RICHARDSON I never heard so much fire in my life.

JAMES HILDEBRAND: I got panicky, I started to run, and I ran into, what I classify, a very, gentle, brick wall.

ROBERT BODY: There was the biggest guy I ever seen in my life standing in front of me.

JOHN COOK: He looked like Pancho Villa with the bandoleers of ammunition strapped across his chest.

EDWARD "TOMMIE" THOMAS: And he had a watch that had, uh, what do you call it, fluorescent things, you could see at night. Then I knew he was a Yank. And I said, "You're a Yank?" And he says, "You're damn right I am, and we come to get you." And, that we were out.

BERT BANK: This Ranger was hollering run for the main gate, the Yanks are here. My vision, at that time, was pretty well shot. He had to kind of lead me and I helped a couple of other young kids.

MALCOLM AMOS: I run down to my ward to see if everybody was out, and there's three still in there, one didn't have any legs at all, one had one leg, and one had passed out on account of he was a heart patient. Some big Ranger got a hold of a litter that was hanging up there, and we throw them three people on that litter and away we went.

ROBERT BODY: I always had problems walking because of all the beatings I'd taken, I said, "I'm going out of this place, if I have to crawl out." I went out of the camp on my own two feet.

NARRATOR: The raid had caught most of the Japanese asleep in their barracks. In minutes, as many as two hundred had been shot. After the initial surprise, a few of the enemy managed to return fire. The Rangers only surgeon was hit.

JOHN RICHARDSON And a mortar shell fell, cut Captain Fisher open; and I look around, I could see that his entrails was in, intestines, and the blood coming.

NARRATOR: Ranger Corporal Roy Sweezy was shot, not by the Japanese, but by friendly fire.

FRANCIS SCHILLI, 6th Ranger Battalion: I jumped out, crawled over to where Sweezy was, and I put my arm under his head. I got my canteen out, poured water on his head, and give him the blessing -- "in the name of the Father and the Son of the Holy Spirit, Amen, I baptize you," and so on. -- And the last thing Sweezy said, "One of my own men killed me."

ROBERT ANDERSON: Captain Prince said, "You be the last man out; I want you to stick your head in every shack you can find and see if anybody's left." And I did that expecting to get shot. The bullets were flying from down the road. I went out with my arm over my face just in case I got hit, it'd be not in the face, but in the arm, but made it pretty safely.

JOHN RICHARDSON When we got to the river, we helped these fellows across, they were frail. We were afraid the water would wash them down, the water wasn't all that deep, but it was pretty swift.

JOHN COOK: When we got to the Pampanga River, I said, "What are you going to do with all those sick people that can't walk?" He said, "Don't worry, we got carabao carts."I think we all had a fear of the Japanese still catching up with us.

ROBERT PRINCE: The Guerrillas were our flanking protection at the Cabu River, which was no more than a mile from the camp, and where we were operating. There was a sizable force of Japanese, but Pajota and his men just killed everything in sight that came up that river and across the bridge. They were the ones that kept this thing from being a tough deal for us.

NARRATOR: Only 22 minutes after the first shot was fired all 513 POWs were out of the camp. Each carabao cart was loaded and set out on the 30-mile journey to the American lines.

JOHN RICHARDSON Those little carabaos, they were slow, but you know, I told a lot of people, there was somebody traveling with us besides Rangers, Guerrillas, and Alamo Scouts -- I firmly believe that the Almighty had a part in this, too.

NARRATOR: As dawn broke, the mile long column rolled across the lines--out of enemy territory.

RICHARD BECK: I don't think I realized that I was fully freed until about 10:00 in the morning. They had a, an American flag draped over a bush at the side of the road. I saw it, and I looked around, and I don't think there was a dry eye.

NARRATOR: Every one of the surviving prisoners had been freed. It was the morning of January 31, 1945. Mucci's Rangers had completed their mission.

ROBERT BODY: People ask me, they say, "Who do you think were the heroes that night?" I say, "Everybody, because everybody done their job, and they done a good job." Well, that's a day I, a night I've always claimed that's the night I was reborn -- that's my birthday.

EDWARD "TOMMIE" THOMAS: That was a long wait, three years, you know, we just were so happy to see them. They had restored our faith in America, in the soldiers, in the Army, and I'm thinking, well, hey, we're under American control, we've got our freedom back.

NARRATOR: A week after the rescue, the prisoners shipped out for home.

JOHN COOK: We passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and the fireboats were spraying water and all I could think of, "My God, they're wasting all that water!" When we got the pier, everyone of us bent down and kissed the earth and then we really let out an exhale and said, "We're finally home."

JAMES HILDEBRAND: We flew across from San Francisco, all the way to Chicago. My whole family was there my dad, my stepmother, my girlfriend and her mother, my sisters were there, my brother-in-laws, uncles, aunts and there's just one big clapping when I just got off the airplane. The Tribune took me over to the airplane again with my girlfriend, and I gave her a kiss, and that was in the newspaper. "HERO RETURNS."

NARRATOR: The prisoners of Cabanatuan now were home, but the war in the Pacific continued until the Japanese surrender in August, 1945. Of the 17,000 Americans soldiers captured in the Philippines, one third never returned.



Site Navigation

The Film & More: Film Description | Transcript |  Primary Sources |  Further Reading | Acknowledgements

Bataan Rescue Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline
Gallery | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

American Experience | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1999-2003 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: